Thursday, December 19, 2013

Scholarship Envy

The American Studies Association has voted to boycott Israel. According to this article at Slate:
The resolution approved by a plurality of ASA members cites as a rationale the lack of “effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation” and calls for the association to boycott Israeli higher education institutions, which are described as being “a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students.”

“I think what the vote indicates is that people recognize the illegal occupation of Palestine as one of the major civil rights issues of our time globally,” said Bill Mullen, a professor of English and American studies at Purdue University and a member of the ASA’s Caucus on Academic and Community Activism, which first put forward the boycott resolution. ...

... In its press release approving the resolution the ASA included statements from prominent scholars endorsing the boycott in light of their personal histories and areas of professional scholarship. Among the scholars who endorsed the resolution was Eric Cheyfitz, an American studies professor at Cornell University who wrote, “I am a Jew with a daughter and three grandchildren who are citizens of Israel. I am a scholar of American Indian and Indigenous studies, who has in published word and action opposed settler colonialism wherever it exists, including of course the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. It is worth noting in this respect that just as the myth of American exceptionalism seeks to erase the genocide and ongoing settler colonialism of Indigenous peoples here in the United States so the myth of Israeli exceptionalism seeks to erase Israeli colonialism in Palestine and claim original rights to Palestinian lands.”
 Peter Beinart writes a thoughtful article at the Daily Beast that is critical of the ASA's decision. He notes that the decision presents a double-standard when comparing Israel against countries that truly abridge academic freedom. (Although, I believe it is an important point--Alinsky's rules about making your opponents live up to their standards, and all).

He also doesn't believe that the ASA is motivated by anti-Semitism, although he believes it is motivated by the left's knee-jerk hostility to the West. He explains:
Because for the global left, imperialism is the great sin of the modern world. And only Western governments and institutions—the United States, South Africa, the World Bank, IMF and now, Israel—can commit it. For institutions like the ASA, Israel’s real crime is not being a country where Jews rule non-Jews. It’s being a country where, in their view at least, whites rule non-whites.
But what disturbs him is the ultimate aim of the boycott:
The best argument against the ASA’s boycott isn’t about double standards or academic freedom. It’s about the outcome the boycott seeks to produce. The Association’s boycott resolution doesn’t denounce “the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.” It denounces “the Israeli occupation of Palestine” and “the systematic discrimination against Palestinians,” while making no distinction whatsoever between Israeli control of the West Bank, where Palestinians lack citizenship, the right to vote and the right to due process, and Israel proper, where Palestinians, although discriminated against, enjoy all three. That’s in keeping with the “boycotts, divestments, and sanctions” movement more generally. BDS proponents note that the movement takes no position on whether there should be one state or two between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But it clearly opposes the existence of a Jewish state within any borders. The BDS movement’s call for “respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties” denies Israel’s right to set its own immigration policy. So does the movement’s call for “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”, which presumably denies Israel’s right to maintain the preferential immigration policy that makes it a refuge for Jews. Indeed, because the BDS movement’s statement of principles makes no reference to Jewish rights and Jewish connection to the land, it’s entirely possible to read it as giving Palestinians’ rights to national symbols and a preferential immigration policy while denying the same to Jews.

This is the fundamental problem: Not that the ASA is practicing double standards and not even that it’s boycotting academics, but that it’s denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state, even alongside a Palestinian one. ...
Even with this, Beinart doesn't believe it is anti-Semitic.

I disagree, because I believe that any position that rules out an Israeli state is ipso facto anti-Semitic. Prof. Cheyfitz, supra, may term Jewish settlement as "settler colonialism," but, in fact, the area has been inhabited by Jews since ancient times, up through and including the post-WWI partition. Jews are not "aliens" to Israel. Moreover, Cheyfitz ignores the moral imperative, following the Holocaust, of having to establish a Jewish homeland to the future safety and security of Jews. Despite his wearing his Jewishness on his sleeve, his rejection of a Jewish state is, in effect, a rejection of Jews as a unique and separate people.

(As a side note, his term, "settler colonialism," doesn't even make sense. Israel is no "colony." If what Israel is doing is "settler colonialism," than the influx of illegal aliens into the United States is likewise "settler colonialism").

However, there is a deeper, metaphysical level, to anti-Semitism generally, and the hostility to Israel specifically. As David P. Goldman writes:
Something else about the Jews, however, gnaws at the soul of Europeans as well as Muslims. The heart of the problem is the world's perception that the Jews truly are an eternal people, not subject to the curse of mortality that hangs over the heads of the peoples of the world. Writing of Europe's population crisis on April 8 (Why Europe chooses extinction)I cited the theologian Franz Rosenzweig: "All religion, Rosenzweig argued, responds to man's anxiety in the face of death [against which philosophy is like a child stuffing his fingers in his ears and shouting, 'I can't hear you!']. The pagans of old faced death with the confidence that their race would continue. But tribes and nations anticipate their own extinction just as individuals anticipate their own death, he added: 'The love of the nations for their own nationhood is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death'. Each nation, he wrote, knows that some day other peoples will occupy their lands, and their language and culture will be interred in dusty books."

Under globalization, the world faces a great extinction of the peoples, the worst since the collapse of the Roman Empire, I have argued on numerous occasions. Every week two languages of the 6,000 spoken on the planet become extinct forever. Most of these are tribal tongues from New Guinea, with only a few hundred speakers. At present birth rates, several European languages will be at risk some time in the next century.

Apart from China and India, of how many cultures can we say that they are not at risk? Despite its high rate of population growth
[ed., which has now also tanked], the Muslim world feels fragile. Few Muslim countries have adapted well to globalization, and the Muslim world feels besieged by the encroaching culture of the West. Jewish theology states that God elected the Jews as his people, and that the covenant between God and the descendants of Abraham never would perish as long as the Jews remained true to it. Most modern Jews are profoundly uncomfortable with this notion ("God of Mercy, choose a different people!" goes the joke). 
Yet the Jews have existed for well over 3,000 years, and Hebrew is the only language West of the Indus that is spoken today more or less as it was spoken 3,000 years ago. How improbable is it that a nation of former slaves, a race of shepherds rather than city builders who had to hire outside contractors to build a temple to their God, is the sole survivor of the civilizations of the time?

Every people wishes to be eternal, to be, as it were, God's chosen. Adolf Hitler's notion of the Master Race, some commentators aver, is an adaptation of the Jewish notion of election. Hitler's determination to destroy the Jews stemmed from his belief that Germany could not really be the Chosen People as long as the Jews remained in existence. The more vulnerable become the fading peoples of Western Europe, the hotter burns their wrath against the Eternal People. Americans, of course, are not a people but a concept. America is where individuals go to abandon their culture, language, customs and history, to be recast in the melting-pot and emerge as Americans.

As I have argued previously in this space, America comes closer than has any other political entity towards fulfilling the Christian idea of an ecclesia, of an assembly of souls called out of the nations. That is why Americans have no fundamental issue with the Jews. Americans enjoy the newborn's sense of immortality, because they have exchanged cultural memory for the promise of a new beginning.

Indians and Chinese, for that matter, rarely take an interest in anti-Semitism, because their cultures are both ancient and robust. It is the peoples whose love for their own culture is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death that have deep cause to detest the Jews.
The political and educational elite in the United States are not "American" in the sense that Goldman uses the term. They are, heart and soul, European--part of the Faustian civilization, as Oswald Spengler would have described it--and subject to the same fits of anti-Israeli fervor.

There may be a more basic issue as well:
 20% of Nobel Prizes have been awarded to Jews. This despite the fact that Jews are only 0.2% of the world’s population. In other words Jews are represented at a rate 100 times higher than strict proportion to population would suggest.
 (Source). This is in line with Israel's overall success despite being a resource poor country compared to the surrounding nations. There is, in the attacks on Israel, a feeling that the critics believe that Israel's success is unfair ... and perhaps a little jealousy at Jewish academic achievements.

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